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"Help us, Governor Spitzer!"

Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute, whose article on capital market competitiveness is our featured column of the moment, has an article in the new City Journal (published by MI) urging Gov. Spitzer to use every means at his disposal to attack the endemic corruption and fiscal mismanagement of New York government. The piece ranges widely over a variety of topics (Medicaid, school failure, public employee pensions, conflicts of interests in Albany, the Wicks Law, etc.) but of particular interest to this site's readers is the following passage:

Absurd personal-injury claims, including claims for pain and suffering, hammer New York municipalities, too. Gotham alone pays out over $500 million in awards and settlements each year, up nearly eightfold since the late seventies, after adjusting for inflation. Costs are so high, the city�s law department explains, in part because "even when a jury finds the city only slightly at fault," state law requires Gotham to �foot the whole bill." Abuses abound, including a case in which a driver, high on cocaine and heroin, swerved wildly around a New York City sanitation truck, injuring three pedestrians. A jury found Gotham 23 percent at fault�the truck driver might have made an illegal turn�but the city had to pay the full $18 million awarded.

To reduce such unjustifiable payouts, New York�s cities and towns have long petitioned Albany to set up a court of claims, modeled on the one that the state uses to adjudicate claims against it. Under such a system, appointed judges, not softhearted jurors, would hear claims and determine liability. But yet another Albany conspirator against the public�the trial lawyers� lobby�has foiled sensible change, again by rallying the powerful Silver to its side.

Not that it had to work too hard. Silver�s support for the litigious status quo is even more self-interested than it appears. Consider one huge trial-lawyer payout during the nineties. As Albany reporting vet Jay Gallagher describes the case in his book The Politics of Decline, two adult brothers, Virgil and John Brown, climbed over a railing at Coney Island and jumped off a pier into shallow water, breaking their necks. The brothers made headlines when they won a $104 million judgment against city taxpayers (later cut by two-thirds by an appeals court). Who represented the Brown brothers, taking home an estimated $8�12 million fee for his trouble? Attorney Harvey Weitz, of the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, where Speaker Silver himself is on permanent retainer, for an undisclosed amount.



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Katherine Lazarski
Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.